William Barr Testimony Live: Attorney General Faces Lawmakers’ Questions About Mueller Report

Attorney General William Barr is facing questions Wednesday from the Senate Judiciary Committee over his handling of the Mueller report.

Mr. Barr said that he met with special counsel Robert Mueller in early March, where he was told by Mr. Mueller that the special counsel report wouldn’t reach a determination on the question of obstruction — something he said that the department didn’t expect.

“We were frankly surprised that they were not going to reach a decision on obstruction,” Mr. Barr said.

“We did not understand exactly why the special counsel was not reaching a decision and when we pressed him on it, he said his team was still formulating the explanation,” Mr. Barr said of the meeting, which took place on March 5.

Once it became clear that the Mueller team was going to punt on the question of obstruction, Mr. Barr said it became his responsibility.

The special counsel investigation was meant to deliver a verdict on criminality — not to simply report facts to the public, he said. “We don’t conduct criminal investigations just to collect information and put it out to the public,” Mr. Barr said.

After the special counsel’s report was delivered and Mr. Mueller objected to the attorney general’s four-page characterization of its findings, Mr. Barr said he called Mr. Mueller after receiving his March 27 letter and asked him “what’s the issue here?”

Mr. Mueller told him his characterization of the investigation’s findings was not inaccurate but he was frustrated that news reporting had failed to capture his team’s nuanced thinking, according to Mr. Barr.

“I asked him specifically what his concern was, and he said his concern focused on his explanation of why he did not reach a conclusion on obstruction and he wanted more put out on that issue,” Mr. Barr said. “He was very clear that he was not suggesting we had misrepresented his report. I told Bob I wasn’t interested in putting out summaries …. I wanted to put out the whole report.”

..  In his remarks, Mr. Barr said the Justice Department’s primary obligation is to determine whether a crime has been committed, rather than lay out facts without making a determination.

“At the end of the day, the federal prosecutor must decide yes or no. That is what I sought to address,” Mr. Barr will say, according to his prepared remarks. “It would not have been appropriate for me simply to release the obstruction section of the report without making a prosecutorial judgment.”

He ended his prepared remarks by saying the facts Mr. Mueller uncovered are now public, and it is up to Americans to figure out what happens next.

Mueller Has a Way Around Trump and His Minions

A road map from the Watergate prosecution shows a potential route for the special counsel to send incriminating evidence directly to Congress.

But a 44-year-old road map” from the Watergate prosecution shows a potential route for Mr. Mueller to send incriminating evidence directly to Congress. The road map was devised in 1974 by the Watergate special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, with our assistance. We wrote the road map — actually a report — to be conveyed to Congress; it was called “Report and Recommendation” and served as a guide to a collection of grand jury evidence contained in a single document. That evidence included still-secret presidential tape recordings that had been acquired through grand jury subpoena — but which had been withheld from Congress by President Nixon.

The recent decision by Washington’s Federal District Court chief judge, Beryl Howell, to release the document from the National Archives provides a historic legal precedent that could be a vehicle for Mr. Mueller and the grand jury assisting him to share the fruits of their investigation into possible criminal conduct within the Trump presidential campaign and subsequent administration.

.. In all the discussion about Mr. Mueller’s options when he concludes his investigation, little attention has been paid to the potential role of the grand jury. Chief Judge Howell’s decision unsealing the Watergate road map brings new focus on the role the grand jury might play in the dynamics of the endgame. Although the grand jury is a powerful tool for federal prosecutors, it has historic and independent power and operates under the supervision of the federal judiciary. Following the Oct. 20, 1973, “Saturday Night Massacre” — in which President Nixon forced the Justice Department to fire the original special prosecutor, Archibald Cox — the Watergate grand jury played a critical role in forcing the president to back down, hand over the subpoenaed tapes and appoint a new special prosecutor.

.. Although Mr. Cox had been fired, his staff — duly appointed federal prosecutors — had not. The grand jury, as an arm of the judicial branchcould not be fired by the president. Indeed, Judge John Sirica of the United States District Court immediately summoned the grand juries (there were two) to his courtroom and exhorted them to continue to pursue their investigations and assured them that they could rely on the court to safeguard their rights and preserve the integrity of their proceedings.

.. In the face of Congress’s inability to obtain evidence that the grand jury well knew incriminated the president, we prepared the grand jury report to Judge Sirica and requested that he use his plenary authority to transmit that evidence to the House Judiciary Committee

.. It was carefully written to avoid any interpretations or conclusions about what the evidence showed or what action the committee should take. The report contained a series of spare factual statements annotated with citations to relevant transcripts of tapes and grand jury testimony. Copies of those tapes and transcripts were included as attachments.

.. Much note has been made of the fact that the Justice Department regulations under which Mr. Mueller was appointed actually require him to submit a report to the attorney general. Importantly, nothing in the department regulations prohibits Mr. Mueller’s Department of Justice superior, now Mr. Whitaker, from refusing to release the report.

.. What if Mr. Mueller concludes that the president has committed a crime? The question of whether a sitting president can be indicted remains a subject of vehement debate among scholars. But assuming that Mr. Mueller follows what many regard as “current Justice Department policy” based on several past internal legal opinions that an indictment is inappropriate, then the appropriate place for consideration of evidence that the president has committed crimes rests definitively and exclusively with Congress.

.. If Mr. Mueller has obtained such evidence, his responsibility and the correct operation of our system of government compel the conclusion that he and the grand jury can make that evidence available to Congress through a report transmitted by the court.

.. With the fox now guarding the henhouse, there is sufficient precedent for the grand jury and Special Counsel Mueller to seek the chief judge’s assistance in transmitting a properly fashioned report to Congress.

Newt Gingrich Didn’t Break American Politics

The Times podcast focuses less on Gingrich’s style and more on his use of so-called “wedge issues.” Times columnist Jennifer Senior interviews Republican former congressman Vin Weber about how the GOP “exploited” American differences on cultural issues such as partial-birth abortion and gay marriage to help hand them their first majority in two generations.

But it turns out that “wedge issue” is just another word for “popular position.” In the early 1990s, there wasn’t a meaningful electoral constituency for gay marriage. There wasn’t much public support for partial-birth abortion. By bringing up cultural issues, the Republicans not only gave voice to millions of Americans who had deep concerns about the cultural direction of the country, but also exposed divisions in the Democratic coalition.

Gingrich’s Contract with America (you can read it here) was extensively poll-tested to present only promises that had overwhelming public support. Gingrich was a political street fighter, yes, but he was playing a very strong political hand. Congress was overdue for serious change.

.. it’s hard to argue that he “broke politics” when the GOP House and the Clinton administration worked together to enact significant legislation.

.. What? The president of the United States (a man who is almost certainly a sexual predator, by the way) had an affair with an intern in the Oval Office and lied about it under oath. He lied to the American people. He conducted a systematic smear campaign against his accusers and his investigators. None of this was Newt Gingrich’s fault.

.. It is absolutely worth profiling Gingrich and considering his role in American politics — including the undeniable part he’s played in American polarization. Some of his tactics have absolutely been destructive. But the diagnosis here is just fundamentally wrong.

.. Did Newt Gingrich “break” American politics more than Roe v. Wade did? Do progressives know or care about the shock waves Ted Kennedy’s “Bork’s America” speech sent rippling through conservative America? Lest you need reminding, here is the key part of that vile text:

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

But for progressives, Roe is good and Bork is bad, and so a bit of sloppy judicial reasoning or rhetorical excess is but a trifling compared to the worth of the broader cause. It’s the arc of history bending towards justice, and that’s not always neat or clean.

.. There’s no question that Newt Gingrich was an important figure, but he was an inevitable important figure. If Gingrich hadn’t ended Democratic dominance of the House, someone else would have. There were tensions in the Democratic coalition that could not be avoided. The Democratic hammerlock on the House was out of step with the composition of the American electorate. The tidal forces of cultural conflicts launched decades before were going to tear apart Congress in the same way they’d torn apart campuses and caused conflict at kitchen tables.So, no, Gingrich didn’t break American politics. But he did help break a progressive monopoly on the House, which the GOP has controlled 20 of the 24 years since. And given the aggression and incivility they overlook on their own side, it’s clear that for many commentators on the left, ending Democratic dominance is Gingrich’s truly enduring sin.